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Common Reading

Just Mercy

Just Mercy

A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

BookCoverWelcome to the SMU Common Reading Program!  The Common Reading Program is an established start-of-school tradition at SMU.  As the incoming class you will receive the book during the summer at AARO and should read it before you arrive for the start of the fall semester.

Faculty, staff, and returning SMU students have already begun reading and discussing the book in preparation for small-group conversations you will participate in before Rotunda Passage and Opening Convocation.  Your first-year writing courses will use the book as part of your curriculum for the fall semester.  

The Story

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

The Author

Bryan Stevenson (Photo Credit: Nina Subin)Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University School of Law. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.



  • “Important and compelling.” —Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains
  • "Gripping . . . What hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation." —Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • "An inspiring and powerful story." —John Grisham, author of A Time To Kill

    #1 New York Times Bestseller
    Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, Esquire, and Time

    Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction
    Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction
    Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award
    Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize
    Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize
    An American Library Association Notable Book

    Reviews and Articles

    The Washington Post

    New York Times



    "We Need to Talk About an Injustice": Bryan Stevenson's 2012 TED Talk


Common Reading Discussion

Sunday, August 21 (prior to Convocation)
Location: across the SMU Residential Commons

Common Reading Public Lecture

Thursday, October 13
4:30 PM | McFarlin Auditorium


Check back soon for information on small group discussions and faculty brown bag sessions!

Watch the 2016 Common Reading Video

Selection Process

Each year the Common Reading book is selected by the Common Reading Selection Committee. Chaired by David Doyle, Director of SMU's University Honors Program, the Committee solicits books suggestions from the entire SMU Community. 

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"Every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so . . . a stirring testament of the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields."

-The New York Review of Books